ZOË SULLIVAN-BLUM- As you may or may not remember, last week’s blog post was all about homesickness and loneliness. I was really stuck in a rut, feeling lost even as I traveled the familiar streets of La Latina. However, in the playful and ironic manner in which life operates, this week has been almost the opposite. A few days after I wrote my last post, I left my house to realize that the world felt different. It felt like I had been having a bad dream and finally woken up to realize that I was in the safety and comfort of my own bed. I had been struggling, awash in feelings of isolation and melancholy. And now, at least for the time being, I feel like I may even belong here.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still struggles. I think anyone who tells you that living in a different place is easy is either lying or in denial. But my homesickness has diminished greatly this past week. I think I first noticed a shift after I talked to our program director, Susan. I went to her office and poured out my feelings for far too long. But after our pseudo-therapy session, I emerged feeling validated and supported. We all go through a veritable rollercoaster of emotions during our time abroad, and whether it was the power of suggestion from my talk with Susan or just that I had needed a good vent session, I began to feel more positive the very next day.
I began to notice things I had been overlooking, too busy paying attention to my anxiety over how much I missed home to realize that there were many things right in front of me that made me feel home. I noticed how comforting I find the sound of rain on my skylight, and how beautiful the light is in the morning. I noticed the way the owners of the Kebab shop down the street smile at me in recognition every time I pass them on my way back to my house. I noticed the beautiful voice of the woman who often sings at my metro stop and how I feel her absence when she isn’t there. I noticed the way the workers at Prep’ la Crêpe (a restaurant near our program center that many of us have come to frequent) now seem to anticipate my order before I have even opened my mouth. I noticed how defensive I felt of this city when a friend visiting for the weekend had her phone stolen and, naturally, expressed some negative feelings about Madrid.
I’ve experienced the feeling of missing this place before. When I returned from Copenhagen, although I’d had fun, I was overwhelmingly relieved when I stepped through my front door. I loved visiting Valencia a few weekends ago, but I definitely felt a familiar sense of comfort and relief once I collapsed on my bed. My house and my host-family have already come to feel like home; in fact, I wrote a post about how much I felt at home with them weeks ago. And yet, until now, until this past week, I hadn’t felt that way about the greater city of Madrid. I hadn’t felt that true contentment; that waking-up-in-your-own-bed feeling; that warmth that encircles you, telling you that you’re home.
But now, finally, the feeling of warmth has stayed with me when I leave my house. It extends past my street, around the corner and past the Kebab shop. It encircles the Metro, the Program Center, UAM’s campus. It hovers over the city, showing me that it’s okay to relax, to let myself feel at home. Madrid—although not the place I was born, the place where I’ll accept my diploma, or a place I plan to live long term—has come to feel like a kind of home. And that—that feeling of coming home, not just to a house or a family, but to an entire city—is irreplaceable.